Highest prevalence of opioid use disorders in eastern parts of India: UNODC report

‘The largest numbers of people with opioid use disorders are in the north-western and central-western States’

Updated - June 28, 2023 05:56 pm IST

Published - June 28, 2023 05:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

At 2.1%, India had the highest prevalence of opioid use in South Asia in 2018 and it still mainly remains a male phenomenon in the country. Image for representation purpose only.

At 2.1%, India had the highest prevalence of opioid use in South Asia in 2018 and it still mainly remains a male phenomenon in the country. Image for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The highest prevalence of people with opioid use disorders in India is observed in the eastern parts of the country, while the largest numbers of people with opioid use disorders are found in north-western India (Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana) as well as in some of the central-western States (Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh), the latest World Drug Report 2023 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) has found. The report also warns of cheap and easy synthetics changing drug markets with lethal results. 

According to the report, traditionally, the prevalence of opiate use has been high in India’s north-eastern and north-western States. However, the high level now also found in Maharashtra appears linked to the increasing quantities of opiates being trafficked to India from Southwest Asia by sea.

Also Read | India staring at a substance abuse crisis, survey finds

“Detailed analysis of opioid use in India reveals that rates vary widely within the country. Among the population aged 10-75, overall rates of opioid use range between 0.2 and 25.2%, and rates of opioid use disorders between 0.1 and 6.9%,’’ the report added.

Highlighting the factors affecting drug use in South Asia, the report states that these are in general not entirely different from those reported in other regions, and include curiosity, peer pressure, pain reduction, anxiety, and work efficiency.

Additionally, demographic dynamics may be specifically affecting South Asia, the report said, finding that increasing urbanisation could be linked to substance abuse.

“In India, for example, the use of opium is still primarily a rural phenomenon, while the use of heroin and non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids is more of an urban phenomenon. The urban population of India has grown substantially over the past three decades, its share of the country’s total population having increased from roughly a quarter to more than a third by 2021. This phenomenon may have contributed to the overall increase in the use of heroin and non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids in the country,’’ the UNODC said.

At 2.1%, India had the highest prevalence of opioid use in South Asia in 2018 and it still mainly remains a male phenomenon in the country.

In an e-mail interaction with The Hindu, Marco Teixeira, UNODC Regional Representative, South Asia noted that the top challenges faced globally — with repercussions for the country — included the proliferation of new psychoactive substances (NPS), growing trafficking, the use of synthetic opioids, and more women consuming amphetamines and indulging in non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs.

“Growing emergence of NPS in the market [there were 618 NPS in the market in 2021, up from 162 in 2010], growing trafficking and use of synthetic opioids, increasing trafficking of drugs via the maritime route, as well as rising seizures of opioids and heroin, globally, more women consuming amphetamines and indulging in non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs — are all challenges. The demand for treating drug-related disorders also remains largely unmet and disparities in access persist. Globally, about one in five people with drug use disorders received treatment in 2021, with large disparities across regions and in the type, quality, and gender parity in terms of treatment received. We need greater focus on addressing the drug problem with a whole-of-society approach, putting people first,’‘ Mr. Teixeira said.

Stating that there is a growing need to increase investments to strengthen large-scale drug use prevention initiatives that are school, family- and community-based, he added that India, which is home to the world’s largest population and high GDP, is also located between the world’s two largest areas of illicit opium production. 

“This makes the country both a destination and a transit route for opiates produced in these regions. This poses significant risks, especially to young people and vulnerable groups. There was also a shift to online drug trafficking, through darknet, among others. The 2023 World Drug Report indicates a peak in online/darknet-based drug trafficking in 2020, but there has been a downward trend since then,’‘ the UNODC official said.

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